Wellways Helpline has this week launched an extended hours service, Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm, to meet the demand for after-hours mental health support for the community.

Helpline 1300 111 500 is a free and confidential service providing mental health information, support and referral advice. All Helpline volunteers are ‘peers’, people who have either experienced mental health issues themselves or who have cared for a family member.

Manager of Volunteer Engagement, Shaun Walsh, says the new Helpline hours and expanded service offering—which includes scheduled ‘outreach’ calls—are critical to address the community’s need for mental health support.

“Over a five-year period, we’ve seen a 75% increase in calls to Helpline,” he explains.

“During that time, we’ve been aware that people often have a greater need for support and information during the evening hours. By extending our operating times, we will be able to meet this peak period of demand for our services.”

Helpline is expecting a 30% increase in both incoming and outreach calls with the launch of the extended hours. The service has experienced an enormous growth in the number of outreach calls made to people who may be isolated or have the greatest need for regular phone support.

Shaun adds: “The number of scheduled calls we are making, to some of the most vulnerable people in the community, has been the biggest change and expansion to our service. We started providing call outreach in 2012, and demand keeps growing, especially amongst individuals with high and complex mental health needs.”

Shaun notes that a highlight of the past five years has been the number of times callers have expressed to volunteers that it’s the first time they have felt like they’ve been treated as a person and not a patient. 

“Volunteers are having meaningful conversations, where callers are re-learning conversational skills and gaining confidence in sharing day-to-day aspects of their lives,” he says. 

“They’re really engaging with the service and, in turn, it’s supporting them to re-engage with the community.”

Helpline volunteers bring warmth, open-mindedness, respect and excellent communication skills to their role. The service is unique in offering peer knowledge and support from people ‘who have been there’—who understand the issues, frustrations and queries that can arise, and who can navigate the mental health system, including the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Helpline callers have eagerly shared their praise of the service and its volunteers. 

“The people speak like I have known them forever, like old friends. They are helpful with ideas. I feel better when I get off the phone,” said one caller. 

Another adds: “It helps having someone to talk to who has been through similar circumstances and has managed to work through it.”

Helpline, which traces its start to the earliest days of the organisation’s 40-year history, is now poised to take on its biggest growth ever, as it launches its expanded hours.

To contact Wellways Helpline, phone 1300 111 500.